Blessed Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow our nation celebrates Thanksgiving. I think I was in the store with most of East County today, selecting the ripest apples and seeking the plumpest turkey. I also spied these adorable sugar pie pumpkins and had to put them in my cart.

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These beauties are part of a new Autumn tradition for our family as my daughter discovered a recipe called ‘pumpkins stuffed with everything good.” Yum!

They are not kidding it is ‘everything good’!

I will be lucky enough to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and I hope you, as well, will have a place to raise a plate and a prayer this weekend. Thanksgiving is part of our American history, but it can also be part of our present.  Thanksgiving, as its name implies, is, at its heart, an opportunity to gather with friends and family and reflect on all the ways we are blessed and can be a blessing to others.

As such my prayer for you is that you may be a blessing to others this Thanksgiving. And be blessed as well.

–Pastor Richenda

Whatever Happened to Thanksgiving?

by Gary Carter
first published Nov. 1998

Thanksgiving is dead! Long live Christmas! The gods of commerce called for the head of Thanksgiving, one of America’s most important and original holidays, long ago — and the greedy, consuming public obliged.

We put aside giving thanks and bringing family together in order to take advantage of paltry discounts at the local department store. Forget the turkey and dressing, pass me the sales papers. It is amazing that we need three months to prepare for a one-day holiday. Now I can see you need a little extra shopping time for Hanukkah, since that lasts several days. But Christmas is just one day. And any way, it’s not about buying gifts, is it?

I’m not sure anymore, it’s been so long since anyone has shown me the true meaning of Christmas. I’m still trying to hold on to November being the Thanksgiving month. You know, telling the family you’re having the meal at your home, warming up the oven the night before for the turkey and dressing, getting the cranberry sauce ready, cleaning the house, and breaking out the photo albums. The grandparent would say the prayer before the meal, the family would eat and share stories. Dad would unbutton his britches and head for the couch. The football game would be blaring in the back. And for one day, all misunderstandings and squabbles would be put aside and the family would give thanks for what they had.

But things started to change about a decade ago. The Christmas season started a little earlier one year; then earlier the next year; then earlier. And before you know it, after you put away the Halloween candy, boom — out come the Christmas decorations.

The second day of November, as I made my way to the grocery store, I actually saw some people in my neighborhood putting up their Christmas trees. I almost wrecked. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t get my window down fast enough to yell, “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!” Oh, the Pilgrims are probably spinning in their graves. But what are you going to do? Since this country lives and dies by the mighty dollar, you can’t change the direction commerce has taken our holiday spirit. But you can’t give in either.

How about reminding those around you about Thanksgivings past? If someone tells you in November to have a happy holiday say, “Thanks, and you have a great THANKSGIVING too.”

Above all, just don’t forget what our early settlers meant when they invited the Native Americans over for that festival of food and camaraderie centuries ago. And what was the meaning of that first Thanksgiving? If you don’t know by now, I guess you better get to that Christmas sale at the mall. Hurry, you only have 35 days until Christmas.

Talkin’ turkey

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by Gary Carter

There’s always a first time. Do you remember yours? The first time you cooked a turkey on your own, away from home, for the family?

From Julia Child to Emeril Lagasse, famous chefs have all confessed to their first forays into the holiday cooking realm, most to hilarious and disastrous outcomes.

And, for me, hearing those stories as I sat glued to television food programs over the years, only added to my dread and fear of cooking a Thanksgiving feast for the first time away from home.

I researched. I shopped. I planned. Still, the result was lackluster and full of pitfalls.

I had no idea how long it takes to thaw a big frozen turkey. In fact, it still seems like a crapshoot, as I’ve had a frozen turkey in the fridge for a week and it was still partially frozen.

But that first time, it only thawed in the fridge overnight, so it was still rock hard. I unwrapped the bird, covered it in butter and salt and pepper, and put it in the oven on 350 degrees.

What seemed like a day later, it looked done to me. Well, it wasn’t burnt.

My folks arrived first that day for Thanksgiving dinner, and my mom was inspecting the bird. She noticed a white thing on the side and pointed it out. It was a pop-up thermometer that just about melted into the breast. I had never seen one of those before. Oops.

Then, as my father was giving the bird the once over for carving, he looked into the turkey’s cavity and slowly pulled out a steaming bag. It was the giblets and such. “What is that?” I said. He tried to cover for me, but the game was up. All had noticed that I cooked the bird with the bag of guts and neck and stuff still inside.

To my family’s credit, they ate on this sad turkey. Eh, I’ve had worse. But, I believe my confidence was taken down a notch or two; as it was later in the meal when my “homemade” pumpkin pie was discarded wholesale by the family.

I had purchased a pumpkin, carved it, and used the meat inside for the pie. Think chicken pot pie with pumpkin. Seemed like a simple idea at the time … pumpkin, karo syrup, and a crust. A family member whispered to me the virtues of pie filling.

I like to think that more than two decades later, I’ve got the hang of Thanksgiving dinner and can be in a position to give advice and warning to those embarking on their first time. But you know what happens when you assume? I’ll leave it at that.

Keep it simple

I’m hearing that I need to rub under the turkey’s skin a compound butter made with chervil and raspberry-mango salsa and I need to tie the legs with organic hemp and stuff with a parsnip puree and panko bread crumbs.

Ah, that makes my head hurt. Here’s what I think:

Thaw the bird. Take the gunk out of the cavity and putan onion, an apple, and an orange in there. Turn the whole thing over, breast side down and put a can of chicken broth in the bottom of the roasting pan. Cook it low and slow, maybe even overnight on 200 degrees. About 40 minutes before the end, turn the bird back over, baste with butter and crisp the skin under the broiler to give the bird a golden hue.

Cooking the turkey breast-side down will almost always leave you with a moist turkey, and in my experiences, no matter how you cut it or season it, if the bird is dry, people aren’t satisfied.

The stuffing in the bird is usually the tastiest, but you have to know it comes at the expense of the bird’s juices. Make your stuffing in another pan, and you can’t go wrong with cornbread dressing anyway.

I just cook up three packages of cornbread in a big alumninum pan, and when the cornbread is done, pour on three cans of chicken broth, add boiled egg whites, some milk, chives, garlic salt, black pepper, and a few assorted other spices and put the soupy dressing mix into that warm oven for an hour or so. Simple, yes … but very good.

You take that bird out of the pan when it’s done and let it rest, boil the leftover juices and some corn starch or flour/water mixture to thicken it and season it how you like it … gravy.

This isn’t rocket science, and it’s not going to impress a food snob seeking out the “root vegetable puree” or balsamic-turkey consommé. It’s good, simple, and easy. And it’s a crowd pleaser. If this is your first Thanksgiving feast, don’t fret. Take it from someone who’s taken the Thanksgiving walk of shame … just keep it simple.

A New Home for the Holidays

In reflecting on the holidays (holy days!) upcoming, I have been thinking about the idea of ‘home.’ Home to many of us is a place of deep love and belonging. Home is a deeply sacred place and our bible gives us many stories about home and what it means for us.

My dog running by Michael Kappel Flickr 2008 CC BY-NC 2.0

One of those stories is found in the story of Isaac and Rebekah.
The bible tells us about parts of their lives together, and begins with how they met and married. This was no small task and in the days of arranged marriage and carefully considered family unions the largest chunk of the story revolves around the work of a servant who is tasked with finding a bride for Isaac and bringing the two together. Love is barely mentioned!

To the contrary, the story begins with loneliness and loss, not love. We start with Isaac’s father Abraham who is very elderly and now a widower. He knows he has laid a solid plan for the future that God called him to begin, but now time has passed. He has been faithful and his life has been blessed, but he must now see to it that the blessings and faithfulness he enjoyed in his life become blessings for those who must now take their turn for a future in faith. But his son, Isaac, who will carry God’s blessing forward, does not yet have a partner to share this blessing with.

As Abraham sees the future, so Isaac must see it, too. For Isaac as the story starts, the future must seem lonely or even frightening. His mother has already passed away and his father will soon follow her. He will be left alone, a first-generation immigrant, a stranger to the land he was born in. He will have no one to share his life with.

Abraham notices this and calls one of his servant to go and find a bride for Isaac, someone who will be willing to leave her homeland as Isaac’s family had done. Someone who will share the blessing of God in their new home-place.

Camel Rider by Hewy Flickr 2011 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The servant obeys, and when he reaches the place he is instructed to go, he sees signs everywhere, small but precise indications that he is exactly where he needs to be and talking to exactly the right girl. He asks God, “When I say to a young woman, ‘Hand me your water jar so I can drink,’ and she says to me, ‘Drink, and I will give your camels water too,’ may she be the one you’ve selected…” And when it happens just as he asked, he rejoices.

That girl’s name was Rebekah.

It is not easy to know what paths ahead of us will be blessed. Some paths are harder to walk than others, but when it comes to moving your family to a new place, this is perhaps among the hardest things of all. Hardest, that is, until we think of the harder challenge that Rebekah faced. Imagine being asked to move from everything you know, to step out in faith to meet a man you do not know in a place you have never been! Could you, like the girl Rebekah, say ‘yes’ to God?

I think about my own path of meeting my husband (almost 30 years ago, now, at a yoga class!) I remember how everything seemed to line up just right, as if God was bringing us together. I remember how amazed I was that he loved me even when I wore my old, ugly sweatpants in public. (In my defense, it was the 1980s.)

Then there was the day the moving truck pulled up and we relocated from our home in Northern California—where all our children had been born—and headed for a place called Camas, Washington.
I looked for signs like crazy. I needed reassurance that I was doing the right thing.  Was this really the new place for us?

Thankfully, there were many signs, but the one I remember most vividly was one that happened while we were flying over Portland during our decent into PDX. It was a rare day in March when the sun was out. The whole of the Columbia and Willamette River valley was lit up, as was Mt. Hood, with clouds clearing. The landscape shone with promise. I breathed a little sigh of relief to see such a sign! And I said to myself, ‘yes, I can live here.’

‘Mt. Hood from the air’ by Whateverything Flickr 2003 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

That was more than 20 years ago, and I still look back on that moment and smile. The servant of Abraham was probably even gladder when all the signs he asked for—and more—pointed at the girl named Rebekah. The servant, the girl, and all her family agreed that day that with signs so strong, ‘this was something God had done.’

When I think about Isaac and Rebekah, I wonder what it was like for them when they first met. In the story we get a very short version of that event. We only know that after traveling back with the servant, Rebekah sees Isaac in the distance. She stops and asks who the man is, and when the servant tells her this is her future husband, she dismounts her camel, puts on her veil, and prepared to meet him for the first time. We learn that a great love grows between them and that Isaac was no longer lonely.

Across Camas-Washougal and east county this holiday season, there will be those who will be like I was many years ago, relocating from a far away place, and seeking signs of ‘home.’ If you know such a family this year, make a special note to wish them many blessed holy days. May they find the signs of reassurance that they have come to the right place. May they, through love and welcome, realize that God has chosen this place for them as a new and lasting home.

Blessings for your Thanksgiving, with Advent to come!
Pastor Richenda

Photos:
My dog running by Michael Kappel Flickr 2008 CC BY-NC 2.0
Camel Rider by Hewy Flickr 2011 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
‘Mt. Hood from the air’ by Whateverything Flickr 2003 CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A Grazioso Duo Halloween

What a joy it is to begin something new!

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Tatiana Kolchanova and Nilda Curtis are the Grazioso Duo, Spring 2015

This last Spring we welcomed Tatiana Kolchanova into our church. Tatiana Kolchanova is a world class violinist and pianist who teaches locally at the Music and Arts Academy in Camas. She is the conductor and leader of the Camas Washougal Community Orchestra that meets at the church, and she and her Grazioso Duo partner Nilda Curtis have now preformed for two Benefit Concerts at the church, one last spring and one for Halloween!

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We want to say Thank you!! Both concerts have been absolutely amazing, (And thank you to Kennedy Violins who sponsored both concerts!) Our October 24th concert filled the church with not just beauty, but also a spooky playfulness.

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For this last concert,  our own Tatiana Kolchanova and her musical partner Nilda Curtis were joined by Marc Bescond, who plays upright bass for the Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Music included the goosebump-inducing ‘Dance Macabre’ by Saint-Saens,

Primarily, however, the concert was about playfulness and fun. The Duo opened the concert with Aaron Copland’s ‘Hoe Down’ for which they donned cowboy hats. For Bescond’s part of the fun he strode out into the sanctuary dressed as a pirate with big black boots and proceeded to bring the sounds of shipboard to the listeners, expertly plying bow and plucking strings to imitate sea gulls, the whistling wind, and the creaking of a great mast.

The concert was very well received and the generosity of Kennedy Violins who sponsored the event means that all donations will go toward youth and family ministries.  What layers of blessing on blessing!